October 27, 2022
Thanks to the perseverance of a handful of community members and funding approved by President M. Craig Barnes, an arts initiative that has been years in the making is coming to fruition at Princeton Theological Seminary, beginning with an opening exhibit that features the work of world-renowned artist Makoto Fujimura.
Billed as art@pts, the new initiative has two primary goals: to showcase art on campus in a constructive, curating way, and to reach out to the local artist community as good neighbors to invite them to get involved by providing them with opportunities to display their work.
“We intentionally kept the steering committee small so that we could get it going quickly,” says F. W. “Chip” Dobbs-Allsopp, MDiv ’87, James Lenox Librarian and professor of Old Testament, who has been spearheading the initiative. Additional committee members include Thomas Hastings, executive director of the Overseas Ministries Study Center (OMSC); Amy Ehlin, senior director of auxiliary services; Elaine T. James, associate professor of Old Testament; Lydia Andeskie, Wright Library archivist; and students Matthew Green and Elizabeth Steel.
“In the past, we had these types of art exhibits going on periodically, mostly through continuing education under the leadership of Dayle Gillespie Rounds,” Dobbs-Allsopp says. But with no formalized structure or permanent funding, the program fell by the wayside. “In the back of my mind, though, I thought we might do this someday,” he adds.
Fast forward to 2020, when OMSC relocated from New Haven to Princeton Seminary, bringing with it an artist-in-residence program and an art collection with more than 200 works.
“Ding, ding, ding,” Dobbs-Allopps says with a laugh. “I thought, very cool, Tom, thank you. At the same time, Amy Ehlin over at Erdman was hearing on a regular basis from people wanting the same kind of arts program. I give her a lot of credit for making this happen,” he shares.
“Our small, intimate gallery has long hosted student, faculty, staff, and local and regional artists,” says Ehlin. “We are delighted that this new initiative provides an expanded opportunity for the Princeton Seminary community and our visitors to interact in the same way with such world-renowned artists as Makoto Fujimura, Everlyn Nicodemus, and others.”
Erdman Center hosts events, retreats, and conferences year-round, providing lodging and meeting space for visitors from across the globe. “To say we are excited would be an understatement,” Ehlin adds.
Resources have been used to better equip the Erdman gallery to display art for the current and future exhibits to create a better viewer experience and to attract more artists to participate.
“Right now, we're thinking about visual art, but this program is open, in principle, to having a musician or a poet or others,” says Hastings. “It’s fair to say that, on the whole, art@pts is in its infancy and some of these things will be more fully developed as the program goes forward.”
Hastings and the committee are hopeful that other spaces on campus — indoor and outdoor — will be identified for displaying the works owned by OMSC as well as those created by artists from Princeton, Trenton, Philadelphia, New York, and beyond.
“Over time, Princeton Seminary is going to be a much more vibrant-looking campus because it will be filled with all of this beautiful art,” he adds.
A public reception celebrating art@pts and featuring Makoto Fujimura, the first artist to exhibit in the program, will be held on November 3, from 7-9 p.m., at the Erdman Center.
Fujimura’s new book Art+Faith: A Theology of Making (Yale University Press) discussion and New Creation (Windrider Production) short film premiere (of Makoto and Haejin Fujimura’s work in India through Embers International) will be part of the opening celebration, connecting the “New Vista” painting with the works of beauty and justice.
“This is a way for people from Princeton and the broader art community to see that something new is going on at Princeton Seminary,” says Hastings. The exhibit — titled “New Vista: A Theology of Making” — features 14 paintings and prints and includes an original, new work created for the Seminary’s gallery space. Fujimura’s work will be on display through the end of November.
Hastings was instrumental in securing Fujimura — a leading contemporary artist whose process-driven, refractive, “slow art” has been praised by David Brooks of the New York Times as “a small rebellion against the quickening of time” — as the featured artist for the opening exhibit. The two have had a professional and personal relationship for more than two decades, Fujimura says.
“I moved from downtown Manhattan to Princeton about a dozen years ago, and I've been very private and sequestered happily here in my studio,” he says. But over time, he got to know students and others from Princeton Seminary. “As I got to know these young people, I was trying to help them in small ways to grow through casual, informal conversations. And then my dear friend Tom Hastings moved to Princeton and invited me to participate in his OMSC program,” Fujimura says. “And then this summer he told me about this opportunity to help make the Seminary more accessible to the Princeton community.”
Fujimura says he was surprised at the speed at which things came together.
“Hosting an exhibit is about culture care,” he says. “I usually start to prepare two years in advance of something like this, but I’m glad we were able to put something together.”
The Seminary campus “is a fantastic space,” Fujimura says. “Throughout the campus, there are huge opportunities to showcase art, that, if curated well, will attract attention and scholarship. And what is wonderful about it is it is also a residential community, a place where students spend time physically together. To me that is an important piece of education that is eroding fast,” he adds.
“Art is a way of a way of touching people in a way they didn't even realize they could be touched,” Fujimura continues. “And you have students from all over the world, some of whom have never had the opportunity to see or touch art. Opening that world up to them is critical. If there was ever a paradigm in which the arts made sense to have in the context of learning, it is Christian theology.”
Fujimura contends that artists have an opportunity to create something new that mysteriously opens new paradigms and new ways of understanding any subject matter.
“I think that's something artists long for,” he says, “to be connected to a larger reality, whether it be mercy or beauty.”
Editors note: The next art@pts exhibit to be on display sometime in February will feature Everlyn Nicodemus, the current artist in residence at OMSC.
“Trenton Psych was a fantastic place to work and learn, a seminal part of my Seminary experience and the most important thing I did at Princeton.”